This painting will appear in Volume Six of Edward Ruscha: Catalogue Raisonn/ae of the Paintings, 1998-2003 edited by Robert Dean.
'The history of the transcendental landscape from Caspar David Friedrich to Albert Bierstadt to Ansel Adams, seems to be packed into Ruscha's recent paintings, and the weight of this history, of ideas from the primeval sublime to the search for Eden in the wildness, buckles the canvas. On close examination, Ruscha's super-real, photographic mountains break up into a complex series of little flat planes of colour, similar to a paint-by-number kit or the methods used by billboard painters. The natural appearance of the mountains is only an illusion; rather, Ruscha gives us the 'idea' of the mountain' (K. Brougher, quoted in 'Words as Landscape', Ed Ruscha, exh. cat., Washington, D.C., 2000, p. 174).
Set against an ice-cool alpine vista, Rehab Pump Doctors...is a striking monumental painting; its fusion of text and environment consistent with Ed Ruscha's most iconic works. Bright white letters crisply articulate themselves against the dazzling blue sky and dramatic snowcapped mountains. Executed in 1998, Rehab Pump Doctors is a sterling example of Ed Ruscha's acclaimed Mountain Pictures series, examples of which are included in major international museum collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and Tate Modern, London.
Beautifully rendered with meticulous precision, the bold lettering scrawled across the hyper-real painting imparts a dramatic tension to Rehab Pump Doctors. Soaring over the mountains, the brilliant white text draws the eye from the gleaming snow-white apex to the shadowy foothills, heightening the drama of the picture as the letters leap out of the burgeoning darkness. Perfectly measured across the canvas, the grand scale of text and the bow of the canvas reveal the artist's acute visual sensibility and optical refinements. 'Usually in my paintings, I'm creating some sort of disorder between the different elements', Ruscha has said 'and avoiding the recognizable aspect of living things by painting words. I like the feeling of an enormous pressure in a painting' (E. Ruscha, quoted in R. Marshall, Ed Ruscha, New York 2003, p. 241).
Informed by his knowledge of typography, the coolness of the glacial scene in Rehab Pump Doctors is mirrored by the crisp articulation of the lettering, which Ruscha chose specifically for its clean-cut sharpness. Speaking of the evocative nature of text, Ruscha stated, 'Words have temperatures to me. When they have reached a certain point and become hot words they appeal to me... sometimes I have a dream that if a word gets too hot and too appealing, it will boil apart, and I won't be able to read or think of it' (E. Ruscha, quoted in M. Govan 'Repainting, redrawing and rephotographing Los Angeles', Art Newspaper, published online: 19 December 2012. Accessed at: www. theartnewspaper.com/articles/Repainting,-redrawing-and-rephotograph ing-Los-Angeles/28277).
Uniting Ruscha's practice is his long-standing fascination and unabashed love of words. Having trained as a sign writer, this formative experience can be seen in his earliest typographical works from 1960.'When I first became attracted to the idea of being an artist, painting was the last method, it was an almost obsolete, archaic form of communication. I felt newspapers, magazines, books, words, to be more meaningful than what some damn oil painter was doing' (E. Ruscha, quoted in N. Benezra, Ed Ruscha: Painting and Artistic License, Washington, D.C. 2000, p. 145). Thus what first appears as a perplexing assemblage of words reveals itself to be a carefully ordered arrangement of poetic sounds and syllables that gives the otherwise incongruous words a sense of order and balance. The mouthfeel of the words, with their strong consonants and hammered syllables, impart a rhythmic order and cadenced musicality to the composition. As exacting a wordsmith as he is a painter, Ruscha's choice of words are always loaded with intention. 'Some [words] are found, ready-made, some are dreams, some come from newspapers. They are finished by blind faith. No matter if I've seen it on television or read it in the newspaper, my mind seems to wrap itself around that thing until it's done' (E. Ruscha, quoted in an interview with J. Sterbak 'Premeditated: An Interview with Ed Ruscha', Real Life Magazine, Summer 1985).
Having moved from Oklahoma to Los Angeles to pursue what was to become his career in art, the mountain-scape represents many things. From his early documentary photographs, Twentysix Gasoline Stations charting gas stations across the flat desert horizon, the American landscape has inspired Ruscha throughout his oeuvre and has acted as a foil for his personal experiences. Here the photorealist mountains are evocative of the dramatic west coast surroundings, but more critically, the snow crested peaks conjure metaphors of reaching summits and achieving goals. A cinematic trope for celebrity acclaim, the bright white print recalls the iconic billboard letters over the Hollywood hills or the cinematic glory of the script curling over the mountains of the Paramount Pictures logo. This thread of reference extends throughout Ruscha's entire oeuvre, making manifest the artist's fascination with the culture of spectacle specific to Southern California. Here the act of lettering superimposed on nature is both familiar and anonymous, and Ruscha does not priviledge word or image above another, instead inviting their own connotations. As the artist suggests, 'A lot of my paintings are anonymous backdrops for the drama of words. In a way, they're words in front of an old Paramount Studios mountain. You don't have to have a mountain back there - you could have a landscape, a farm. I have a background, foreground. It's so simple. And the backgrounds are of no particular character. They're just meant to support the drama, like the Hollywood sign being held up by sticks' (E. Ruscha quoted in R.D. Marshall, Ed Ruscha, London 2003, p. 239).